Writing about cancer
Cancer threw me into a vortex, agitated and spun me around until I was completely disoriented—and then spit me back out into vaguely familiar, but eerily not-quite-right territory. In writing and assembling this memoir, I felt the absurdity of trying to make sense of the messiness of disease, of trying to cram the entirety of my experience into a tidy, outlined format, to impose expository control on the discombobulation of cancer and create order out of the bedlam of disease. It’s near impossible.
I can recall in vivid detail intense individual instances like sitting in the chemo chair, my head stuffed with the cotton of liquid Benadryl flowing through my port while trying to hold onto a thin thread of conversation with the friend sitting beside me, all the time hearing the buzz of other cancer patients and staff around me like a swarm of wasps batting against the window of my consciousness. But it’s much more difficult to pull the lens further back in order to get the wide-angle shot that catches the whole panorama of disease.
My relationship with time transformed with disease. In fact, I am still in some ways spiraling around and around the past three years, trying to make sense of all that happened. I see myself so strong and healthy then suddenly diminished, heartsick, crying. I see myself alternately devastated, optimistic, brave, resigned, and hopeful. I see the missed opportunities and the blessings I would never name as such. I keep coming back around and around on that spiral, wondering who I am now and what I have learned—if I have learned anything.
My story fluctuates and mutates depending on the anecdotes and experiences I choose to relate. Drastically different versions emerge, and each one is true in its own right. I ask myself, Which story do I need to tell? The one in which I am heroically fighting cancer with barbed wit and bald head? Or the one in which I stoically endure by putting one foot in front of the other day after sickening day?
The tidy memoir of my imagination was never written. Instead, I created a mosaic from the tesserae, the catastrophic, and mundane moments of living with my diagnosis. A cancer mosaic made from sharp shards of glass, angles of metallic splinters and porcelain, cracked and broken by time. The pattern is interspersed with smooth, heart-shaped pebbles and cowrie shells, shimmering pink and translucent. I run my fingers along the surface and find the pieces are safer now to touch.
Sometimes familiar, trusted words failed to communicate the devastation and complexity of disease. I trust that this composite—this mosaic with all its inherent shadow and light—will illustrate the story I need to tell.
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